A stinging riddle

At the court of the Emperor Han Wudi 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE), two jesters would regularly fire off riddles at each other in front of the emperor.  On one occasion, Guo Sheren (郭舍人) offered to submit himself to a beating if he didn’t manage to out-wit Dongfang Shuo 東方朔 (c. 160 – c. 93 BCE).  This wasn’t the first time he made such a rash proposal and he was again bested. 

Quotation: `Dongfang Shuo' 東方朔, in Taiping Guangji 太平廣記, comp. Li Fang 李昉 (925-96), fol. 174

Guo said `I want to ask Shuo something, and if he gets it, I’ll willingly submit myself to a hundred strokes of a cane; if he doesn’t, then Your Majesty must give me silk: “A guest comes from the east, singing as he goes; doesn’t enter by the door but leaps over the wall; plays in the middle court then moves to the great hall.  You hit him with a slap, slap, but the dying one still resists and dies fighting, although the master is also wounded” – what is it?’  Shuo said, `A long beak and a thin body, it hides in the daytime and walks at night, loves meat, hates smoke, and is often swotted; I, Shuo, in my foolishness say it’s a mosquito.  Guo has lost, so he should pull down his trousers again’.


東方朔常與郭舍人於帝前射覆。郭曰: 『臣願問朔一事,朔得,臣願榜百; 朔窮,臣當賜帛。曰:客來東方,歌謳且行,不從門入,踰我垣牆。遊戲中庭,上入殿堂。擊之拍拍,死者攘攘。格鬭而死,主人被創。是何物冶? 』 朔曰: 『長喙細身,晝匿夜行。嗜肉惡煙,常所拍捫。臣朔愚戇,名之曰蟁。舍人辭窮,當復脫褌! 』

Source: `Dongfang Shuo’ 東方朔, in Taiping Guangji 太平廣記, comp. Li Fang 李昉 (925-96), fol. 174, in Siku Quanshu 四庫全書 (Shanghai: Guji Chubanshe, 1987), vol. 1044, p. 170b.

Photo credit: Ekamelev at pixabay


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